Windows Intune Cloud Service: Quick Cure for Bad PC Management?

Small businesses rushed the doors for the beta version of Microsoft's Windows Intune service that allows PC management via the cloud. Truth is, many SMBs don't have the resources to manage PCs effectively, if at all, analysts say.

Microsoft's effort to bring cloud services to midmarket businesses has apparently been welcomed with open arms.

Just 30 hours after the beta for cloud-based PC management service Windows Intune was announced this week, Microsoft is no longer accepting new users into the program because the company has exceeded the pre-set limit of 1,000 betas.

Microsoft is not planning to extend the beta limit, said a company spokesperson, and kept the beta small to focus on quality over quantity.

"The high level of interest from partners and customers is hopeful sign that the beta will provide solid feedback for product development," said the company spokesperson.

Windows Intune is a cloud-based service for PC management and security that can be accessed through a Web-based console. IT administrators can get to the portal anywhere there is an Internet connection and use it to manage the deployment of service packs and protection from malware threats, track PC hardware and software inventory, provide remote assistance and set security policies.

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The target audience for Windows Intune, according to Microsoft, is companies with 25 to 500 PCs, known as SMBs (small and midsize businesses), that typically don't have the resources to manage and configure servers in an on-premise desktop management environment.

It's worth noting that Windows Intune is not a managed service run by Microsoft, and there is no service provider to monitor and update PCs. Microsoft merely hosts and maintains the server infrastructure in the cloud — IT admins will need to do the monitoring, but with the advantage of not having to pay for the back-end servers and network hardware.

For more details on the Widows Intune cloud service, including technical requirements, additional management tools and Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade benefits, click here.

Microsoft had originally planned to give organizations until May 16, 2010 to register for the Windows Intune beta, but the response to invitations surpassed expectations.

This could be the result of companies with limited IT resources realizing they have not been doing enough to manage PCs, says IDC research vice president Al Gillen.

"There is a big market of midsize companies that do not manage PCs well, and some that don't do it at all," say Gillen.

One company that is interested in Windows Intune that does not currently have a PC management tool in place is Royal Electric, a construction company based in Sacramento, Calif.

Royal Electric has between 75 — 100 computers in use and has been keeping track of its PCs manually. The company joined the Windows Intune beta program about a year ago and has been testing on five machines running Windows 7 and Windows XP.

"The overhead needed for WSUS [Windows Server Update Services] and Microsoft System Center is just too much for us," says IT manager Steve Jost. "But from what we've seen of the Windows Intune beta, it pulls everything together nicely on a Web page and should help us track PCs better and fix problems before they become problems."

Jost plans to keep testing the Windows Intune beta on up to 10 machines.

IDC's Gillen says that SMBs that barely do PC management are the biggest candidates for Windows Intune. Those that are using a server-based PC management solution such as Microsoft's WSUS or CA's IT Client Manager tend to be larger companies with more IT staff. But they may still be enticed by Windows Intune's lower price and ease-of-use, Gillen says.

Microsoft has not released Windows Intune pricing and licensing details, but did say the service will be sold like other cloud services from Microsoft — through Microsoft partners and the Microsoft Online Services Web site.

The final Windows Intune product will be commercially available within one year of the beta, according to Microsoft.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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